This summer, Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts will present the world premiere of The New Sincerity, a comedy by Alena Smith. The play focuses on a young journalist who finds herself in the throes of a love triangle while becoming swept up in an Occupy-style movement. Dan’s Papers spoke with Smith, who received her MFA in playwriting from the Yale School of Drama, about the politically charged comedy, as well as her writing for the Montauk-set Showtime series The Affair.
The New Sincerity is a personal work for Smith, who was inspired by her own experiences in the Occupy movement while writing the play. “Part of my inspiration came from being involved with the Occupy movement in 2011,” Smith says. “[What I was] sort of witnessing at the same time was one of the most exciting and unexpected actions and civil protest and disobedience I’ve seen in my lifetime. But that also came with inner conflicts and hypocrisies, and the overall vagueness that Occupy was accused of. It was just a very exciting time.” The play, which Smith has worked on for several years, was originally developed at the Cape Cod Theater Project in Falmouth, Massachusetts. “Theater’s slow!” Smith marvels.” I finished the first draft in 2012. It’s grown, gotten better…in the first draft, it was missing an entire character that’s turned out to be one of the favorites during readings. At this point, it’s had like 15 readings, but it’s still going to be really thrilling [at Bay Street].”
A full-time writer, Smith also writes for television, having previously worked on HBO’s acclaimed Aaron Sorkin drama The Newsroom. “It was a great experience,” Smith says. “It was my first job writing for television. But I learned an amazing amount and definitely sensed Aaron Sorkin’s connection and origins in theater. The set felt like a Broadway set, since the show took place in one area. And it was like the best cast on TV.” Being a playwright has informed Smith’s TV writing. “I wrote plays only for 10 years. For TV, I bring an interest in looking at ideas, looking at themes. I like to write complex characters in somewhat confined situations. There are some shows that I’m more naturally comfortable writing for than others.”
While The Newsroom was a deep political drama and her play is a comedy, Smith doesn’t have a set answer as to whether she’s more comfortable writing serious stories or comedic ones. “This is the million dollar question,” she says. “When I came to LA, this question tripped me up a lot, and I’ve come to believe that it doesn’t really matter at all. I don’t see myself writing slapstick comedy, but I don’t see myself writing police procedurals, either,” she laughs.
Smith is now writing for The Affair, which will premiere its second season later this year. “It’s unbelievably wonderful,” Smith says. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had. It’s a special situation—almost every writer on the staff is a playwright. Sarah [Treem, co-creator] and I went to drama school together, so we’ve known each other for years. She’s a huge role model and a good friend.” The Affair’s unique format, a story told from two perspectives by unreliable narrators, excites Smith. “I really love the show. I feel so in sync with the writing. It’s a chamber piece, and playing with perspectives like that is so different.” Smith also confirms that the second season will be set on the East End. “I’m moving to New York in May to be on set. A lot of the shooting will be in Montauk.”
Smith is excited for The New Sincerity to debut at Bay Street. She hopes that, in addition to making people laugh, the play will stay with audiences. “I think that it’s a play that provokes a lot of discussions and also is funny. So hopefully they’ll like it.”
“The New Sincerity,” by Alena Smith and directed by Bob Balaban, premieres at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor May 26–June 14. Tickets and more information available at baystreet.org and at 631-725-9500.